Nigerian Pastor Shines in the Shadow of Death

Thursday, October 27, 2005

In the northern state of Kano where sharia rules, Rev. Dangora makes a stand for Christ.

by Obed Michakpu

KANO, Nigeria, October 25 (Compass) – The Rev. Murtala Marti Dangora began his Christian life 25 years ago with a baptism of fire. While many people in Nigeria become Christians without difficulties, Rev. Dangora’s decision to convert from Islam brought an instant death sentence from Muslim authorities.

He has been detained, dragged to court, and publicly assaulted for receiving Christ. He came to a saving knowledge of Jesus in April 1980 through Haggai Latim, a missionary from the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA).

“I was attracted to Christianity because of the love showed to me by the missionary,” Rev. Dangora said. “In Islam, anybody who is not a Muslim is to be despised. We did not deal with people who are not Muslims, so when the missionary tried preaching to me, I hated him.

“But the surprising thing is that this Christian missionary kept coming. He would always be around when something bad happened to me or my family. He was always there to encourage us. I was touched by his love towards me and my family. It was this act of love that moved me into resolving to become a Christian.”

Then came persecutions. The Muslim leaders of his native Dangora village, in the Kiru area, ordered him arrested and brought before the community head.

“I was interrogated as to why I got converted, and I was told that unless I renounced Christianity, I should be prepared to pay the price of leaving Islam – death,” he said. “I was told clearly that the Quran provides that any Muslim that abandons the faith must die.”

Muslim extremists have assaulted him, and Rev. Dangora realizes he easily could have died by now. “It is God that has kept me alive to this very moment,” he said. “I would have been killed and forgotten years ago. It has happened to others.”

Encouraged by the missionary who taught him the Bible, Rev. Dangora declined to return to Islam. After a year growing in the faith, Rev. Dangora gave a plot of land he inherited from his father to the missionary, Latim, so that a church could be built in Dangora village. This benevolence also earned him and Latim eight weeks of detention in a police cell.

“I donated a parcel of land for the building of the church in that year [1981],” he said. “The church had just been planted and we were in dire need of a place to worship. So, I gave the land out, and a small sanctuary was built to accommodate the worshipers.”

Kiru authorities ordered him and Latim arrested. “I was told by the police and council authorities that I had no right to donate my land to the church,” he said.

Singing in Jail

According to Rev. Dangora, while in detention, the missionary encouraged him not to despair. “At that time, I was only a year old in the Christian faith. I had just converted from Islam to Christianity,” Dangora said. Latim told him that persecution is part of the Christian life and to expect it.

“In detention, we sang Christian hymns, just like Paul and Silas did while in prison,” Rev. Dangora said. “The policemen, who were all Muslims, ordered us to shut up, but we ignored them and sang on joyfully.”

After an eight-week trial, the court in Kiru convicted them of building a church without government approval and ordered them to demolish it.

“Rev. Inusa Ado was the chairman of the Kano district of ECWA at that time,” Rev. Dangora said. “The officials came to Kiru and explained that we committed no wrong for building a church sanctuary. But the police and the council officials insisted that we must apply and get an approval from the government before we build a church in Kiru.”

The demolition directive dismissed, Rev. Dangora obeyed the local government order to apply for approval. “But as I am talking to you now, 25 years later, our application for the building of the church has not been granted,” he said. Hundreds of churches in Kano state face such difficulties, he said.

Soon after he planted the church, Rev. Dangora’s wife, and then his mother, also came to trust in Christ for salvation. In the past 25 years, 300 other Muslims in the area have received Christ. His church has planted four others in the neighboring villages of Kosom, Gandamawa, Baure and Banda.

Gospel Inroads

After studies at the ECWA’s Arifa Bible School in Kano state, as well as another denominational school in Kwoi town in Kaduna state, Rev. Dangora obtained a certificate in theology from the Kagoro Bible College in 1988. From there he went to the prestigious Jos ECWA Theological Seminary, where he obtained a Diploma and Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theology.

He has served as a pastor of an ECWA church in Karaye village (1988-91), and as principal of ECWA Bible School in Tofa, also in Kano state.

Rev. Dangora was elected as the secretary of the Kano district of ECWA in 2001. ECWA has about 24,000 members in Kano, 15,000 of them indigenous Hausa Christians with Islamic background, he said.

Speaking on the inroads of the gospel into the hardcore Islamic environment of Kano, the evangelical leader noted some Muslims are embracing the faith in spite of the fate that awaits them. He credits the success of the work of the church among Muslims to the power of the Holy Spirit and the aggressive missionary drive of the church.

“We planted five churches early this year, and we are hoping that the work will advance beyond this point when we have more missionaries at the end of next year,” he explained. “Missions is the backbone of the church here.”

The ECWA presence in the country began through the missionary enterprise of Sudan Interior Mission (now known as Serving In Mission, SIM) in 1893 in central Nigeria.

Rev. Dangora said there are many Muslims who desire to know Christ, but persecution scares them away. During his four years in office, he has led 20 Muslims to Christ. The church has helped them to relocate out of Kano because their lives were in danger.

“The response of some Muslims in Kano to the gospel is amazing. Sometimes a Muslim would pick up a tract and, after reading it, will come our office to inquire on how to become a Christian,” he stated. “But there is no doubt they are bound to face death if it is discovered they are now Christians.”

Now serving as secretary of the Kano district of the ECWA, Rev. Dangora has remained a high profile target as he speaks out for persecuted Christians.

“Persecution has become a tool being used by Muslims to scuttle the growth and spread of Christianity in northern Nigeria,” the pastor said. “In Islam, there is no consideration for other faiths, and that is why persecution of Christians is so intense here.”

In religious rioting in Kano state in May of last year, 24 members of ECWA churches were killed and their corpses burnt to ashes by Muslim extremists, he said.

“The Nigerian government needs to take a look at the policies of governments running Islamic states,” he said. “We Christians are being mistreated, and our religious rights are being infringed upon.

“Despite my ordeals, I have never regretted becoming a Christian. I have always been happy that I made the decision. I thank God that I got saved,” he said, raising his hands in praise. “I was living in the dark before I became a Christian. I was blind, but received my sight from Christ. I now have light in my heart. It is my prayer that my other Muslim relatives will come to know Christ as the only true God and Savior of the world.”